Category Archives: Louis

The Boys’ Book of Days

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Creating New Rituals

In each area we have visited, we have stayed long enough for Everett and Louie to develop new little rituals that add a new flavor to the sense of “place” in each environment. It has been incredible to see how new experiences and environments ignite the imagination and expedite learning. When we return, Ben and I will likely narrate our epic vacation by summarizing the cities we strolled in, the beaches we played on, the historic sights we toured, and the new culinary delights we savored. However, this experience has been so different and so much richer through the eyes of our little boys, who find a sense of wonder in the unexpected and remind us that being young is a daily adventure no matter where you are.

As Ben and I sat on our Elba balcony this week, we sipped Espresso and recounted all of the little rituals that our boys have crafted that have added so much fun and whimsy to this trip, but that will likely be forgotten details when we look back at photographs and reminisce of this experience in years to come.

So this blog entry is dedicated to Everett and Louie’s “Top Ten” as we have just crossed over the midpoint of our time abroad. Obviously the list favors Everett’s curiosities, but Louie’s ever-developing outgoing personality makes a few appearances as well. This zoomed-in perspective may not capture the sweeping mountain, beach, and countryside vistas we are experiencing in this beautiful corner of the world, but it will offer a glimpse at what this journey has been like with a one-year old and three-year old in tow.

Everett & Louie’s Top Ten

  1. Food Lion

In Switzerland, Everett was intrigued by the wildflowers that grew abundantly across the mountain meadows. Within hours of being there, he became a collector and treasured a plastic grocery bag I found crumpled in the zippered pocket of the Ergo, strategically placed there months ago to assist in poop pick-up on a walk with Otis. The bag was labeled with “Food Lion,” meaning that it had to be leftover from a grocery trip in the Smoky Mountains that we took last October. Everett grabbed on to this and created a game of being a “Food Lion” on the mountain, filling the sack with sticks, rocks, fallen wildflowers, and any other remnant of nature that attracted his whimsy. Even on our dreariest of hikes through cold rain, desperately trekking towards the gondola that would deliver us to drier ground, Everett carried that water-weighted glob of white plastic with him, searching for his next natural treasure.

  1. Number Hunting

In Cannobio, Everett developed a fascination with the house numbers that denoted the individual residences that dotted the old narrow cobblestone street where we stayed. Every time we walked down the charming Via Castello, Everett would find great thrill in calling out the numbers that he recognized and asking us to identify the ones that he did not. The quest was always for “Number 50,” the placard outside of Tommaso’s apartment where we stayed. Louie would get in on the game too, excitedly pointing when we got close to the green shutters and tiled 50 that denoted our “lake house.” Everett had never really shown much interest in numbers before this trip; I find it fascinating and inspiring to see how new experiences can spark the hunger to learn.

  1. Coming Around the Mountain

On Elba, Everett has developed a love for the folk song “She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain.” I think I busted it out on one of our first days here in a desperate attempt to quell a double tantrum erupting from the backseat as we were all getting carsick, while Ben did his best to jolt the stick shift Fiat around the winding mountain roads. Now as we take the stone staircase down to our “beach house,” we have to enact a very specific musical number every time. I carry Louie to the bottom of the twenty stone stairs, while Everett waits at the top.   When we get to the bottom, Everett will not descend until I begin singing “He’ll be Coming Around the Mountain.” I sing, Louie bounces excitedly in my arms, and Everett makes his cautious way down the steps with the biggest grin imaginable. And this is our daily ritual here, every time we return from a day on the beach.

  1. Bell Towers

In both Cannobio and all over Elba Island, there are old stone bell towers, usually standing guard above churches. The bells sound every 15 minutes, and both my boys think this symphony is something quite grand. Everett has become an expert bell tower spotter, spying the brassy bells peeking out of the pines from the Elban mountain road. Each time we hear the bells ring, Everett shouts excitedly, “I hear the bells!” while Louie perks up and begins pointing in the sky until he locates the tower. Everett usually follows his regal declaration with the question, “What are the bells telling us?” prompting Ben and I to look at our watches and tell him the current time or in situations when we need a little transition help, we may respond with, “They are telling us that it’s time for dinner… that it’s time to go to the car…or that it’s time to get in the stroller.” While the other Italian kids are building castles in the sand, Everett is busy building churches and bell towers from the white shingle rocks and sand that blanket the Mediterranean coast.  He has also pocketed two keepsake rocks from the beach: one that looks like a small circular pizza with olives and one that looks like a wedge of Parmesan cheese. These stone snacks might be coming home with us.

  1. The Gondola

Despite the fact that we spent far too much of our first week here using the gondola to flee from the horrible weather in the Swiss Alps, the transportation experience has rooted itself deep in Everett’s imagination.   Even though it has been two weeks since we rode the gondola for the last time, Everett still beckons the mountain cable car scene to both our Italian lake house and island beach cottage. Several times a day, he is a “gondola worker,” focusing intently on pushing imaginary buttons and arranging kitchen chairs to ensure a smooth glide up the mountain to our “snow house.” He has constructed gondolas from the rocks on the beach, from our cell phone charger wire wrapped intricately around a table leg, and from a piece of dried smuggled seaweed draped from his car seat to the car door handle. Forget choo choos. Gondolas are way more preschool-chic.

  1. Gelato

It’s no surprise that this Italian delicacy has won our little guy’s heart.   Everett can spot a gelato stand from a mile away, usually by the garishly colorful trash cans perched outside every gelateria that are shaped like large ice cream cones. “I want to get gelato!” in a little sing-song voice has become a frequent chorus on our daily soundtrack and in most cases, we are happy to oblige. For two Euros, you get a “piccolo” cup of two flavors and Everett’s reliable favorite has been “mint and melon.” We keep encouraging him to branch out, but this combo has become his trademark treat.   And oddly enough, we can’t get Louie to eat gelato. He continues to ask for a taste each time we cozy up to a park bench with those colorful little spoons in hand, but the instant that cold creamy goodness touches his mouth, he cringes at the lip freeze and lets the delectable glob fall wayward. But don’t worry, he is definitely down with little Italian cookies from the pasticerrias—and again, we are happy to oblige.

  1. Italian Radio

Everett has developed a newfound fondness for music on this trip, specifically new sounds that he hears on the car radio. The day we drove out of Switzerland, he began “singing along” with a catchy tune sung in English by a female vocalist. When the deejay came on at the song’s end, I tried to decipher his German to catch the singer’s name and heard something to the effect of “Sophie Homan,” helped by the fact that the name “Sophie” showed up on car dash display. While Internet searches have not turned up this Swiss/Italian/Euro diva’s identity, Everett continues to ask for his “Sophie Homan” every time we get in the car.

And in the evenings, when we are making dinner, Ben has put Andrea Boccelli on the iPad, to construct a lovely stereotype of Italian kitchen artistry. Everett immediately stops what he is doing and just listens, transfixed by the melody and focused on mimicking the pitch and notes with his little voice. It’s pretty darn cute.

  1. What Do You See Next?

This popular vacation pastime is Everett’s version of “I Spy” and we play it constantly as we explore new places. In the car, on the balcony, while hiking, on the beach… Everett is constantly inquiring, “What do YOU see next?” Some favorite sights: bell towers (obviously), wildflowers, mountains, the ocean, the beach, motorcycles, bicycles, and Fiats (also paired with a new interest in types of cars).

  1. Potties

Even before our grand adventure, Everett was known for being a potty aficionado. Ever since he became potty-trained, he has had a fascination with public restrooms. He wants to see the potty in every establishment and then describe it with adjectives such as, “This is a tall potty; a nice, clean potty; a dirty potty; a potty with pink, vanilla soap, etc.”  So you can imagine the amusement that potty patrol has brought us here. The flushers are not handles, but large flat buttons that you press in to the wall. Some of the sinks in Elba restrooms are turned on by stepping on a pedal on the floor. We have experienced the stand-up-and-pee-in-the-hole-on-the-floor potties at Lake Orta (much easier for Everett than for me).   In Cannobio, Everett favored the “lake potty,” a public W.C. located in the center of the main promenade and his first experience with a urinal. (There is no using the regular toilet anymore if the urinal is an option). At our Cannobio “lake house,” Everett had his own potty to himself, outside his bedroom on the third floor. He would only go in “my upstairs potty” when he was in the apartment and has told us how much he misses this latrine now that we are in Elba.   The only downside to Everett’s potty hobby is that public restrooms seem to be an endangered species in Italy. I’m still trying to figure out where all these Italian tourists are peeing when they are out and about. Maybe I don’t want to know, given how much time Louie spends crawling on Italian soil.

10.  Island Walking

And this last one is for Louie, who is getting closer and closer to taking his first independent steps everyday.   Last night, he held Ben’s index finger and walked a long pedestrian mall stretch in Marino di Campo, shuffling his little bowed legs with controlled awkwardness and beaming with exhilaration at his newly realized freedom. Everett might be even more excited than Louie about this anticipated milestone. Every time Louie sets out to practice a micro-step or two, Everett will stand a few feet away, arms open wide and shout joyfully, “Walk to me, Louie. Walk to me!”  Each stumbling shuffle ends with the sweetest brother hug.

So years from now when I am scrolling through photographs of the majestic (albeit underwater) Alps of Riederalp, the paradise of Aquavivetta Beach, and the bustling charm of Cannobio, I hope that I can also recall these daily moments and little rituals that made traveling with two munchkins so unique.

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At the stunning beach of Aquavivetta. What you don’t see: Louie throwing a tantrum because I am not holding him. He is 100% mama-clingy this trip.

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Louie taking a guided stroll through Marino di Campo on Elba Island. Pretty much his first sustained handheld walk.

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“Walk to me, Louie!”

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Building a church and a bell tower with the rocks on the beach.

Eight is Great (Again)

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A little more than two years ago, I wrote a post entitled “Eight is Great” that chronicled my first experience raising an 8-month old. Now that Louie is 8 months (almost 9) old, I figured it was appropriate to write a sequel.

At 8 months old, Louie is still the jolliest babe on the planet.  He very rarely fusses and is always quick to return a smile.  He loves to sit on his hands and knees in crawling position and rock and is pretty adept at scooting backwards.  However, the poor little dude just cannot figure out how to crawl forwards.  This results in frustration when he backs himself into corners and gets himself racked on table legs, chairs, etc.  Unlike Everett, he does not army crawl but prefers to be up on all fours (something that Ev didn’t figure out until 11 months).  However, he is much more stationary than Everett was at this age given that getting from point A to point B requires much more pivoting and zig-zagging as he tries to get ahead by moving backwards.

Louie is so much bigger than Everett was at this age.  He is close to 20 lbs already and is wearing clothes sized 12-18 months.  Everett wasn’t even 20 lbs when he turned 1!  He loves solid foods with recent favorites being yogurt with cinnamon, broccoli and carrots.  He is getting a little better everyday with finger foods, which for now is mostly puffs, peas, carrot bits, and shredded cheese.

Louie has 4 teeth–2 on bottom and 2 on top that look like rabbit teeth.  He takes two good naps everyday (if our schedule allows) and if it doesn’t, he is super flexible and goes with the flow.  He is still not sleeping through the night, but we are starting to work on that this month.

He adores his big brother and his daddy.  He loves to squeal, scream (happily) and babble dada-da and gaga-ga.

Here are a couple photos from our 8-month photo shoot.  Couldn’t be happier to be these boys’ mama!

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The Great Breastling Match

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Although this personal story has only spanned the last four and a half months, it feels like it could be an epic.  An epic complete with tragic flaw and quixotic quests.  Like any good story, there is a protagonist and an antagonist, plenty of conflict, motifs of hope and disappointment, and coveted bursts of comic relief.  This, my friends, is the tale of the Great Breastling Match, otherwise known as my desperate, devoted, and ultimately damned attempt to breastfeed my children.

If I’m honest with myself, I suppose the time frame for this story has spanned a bit longer than four months.  You see, this story is actually a sequel that began with the birth of my first son, Everett.  Everett arrived exactly a week before my due date and entered the world at a slight (but not far beyond average) stature of 6 lbs, 5 oz, and 20 inches.  As a first-timer, I optimistically put him to the breast and assumed that his weak latch and low-powered suck would improve as he grew.  At his weight check on day four of life, my sweet boy was losing not gaining so the pediatrician opened a bottle of formula right there in the office and in a matter of seconds my goal was shot.  Goodbye to exclusive breastfeeding.  While I received lots of encouragement and assurance that we could get back to that goal eventually, it was not meant to be.  In fact, this was only the beginning of our feeding saga with Ev.  A few days later, he began having bloody diapers…not just little flecks of red here and there, but definite blood mixed with stool that I would change as often as 14 times a day.  Obviously, my poor little guy was miserable.  He cried incessantly and who can blame him?  His belly was on fire.

The doctors determined that Everett had a milk protein allergy, meaning that he was allergic to my breastmilk and to the evil canisters of cow’s milk-based formula we shook up to supplement each nursing session.  I’ll spare you all the minute details, but from here we embarked on a journey that included intense dietary eliminations for me and a frustrating trial and error procedure with various “special” hypoallergenic formulas.  I was not about to give up though.  After hearing over and over and over how perfectly natural and perfectly nourishing and perfectly perfect breastfeeding was for my baby, I was not throwing in the towel.  Everett’s feeds became a complex but flawed scientific method with confounding variables and many unconfirmed hypotheses.   What if I stopped eating soy, pumped for 20 minutes after every feed, and tried the Nutramigen formula?  Every diaper change was a roller coaster of hope and disappointment.  As I carefully peeled back the velcro tabs to inspect our experiments’ results, I would continue to find blood and continue to frantically console an unhappy babe.  When Everett was 10 weeks, this crazy cycle came to a halt.  The doctors urged me to stop breastfeeding and begin a medicinal hydrolyzed formula called Neocate.  We had to order it online from a medical nutrition company.  It cost a fortune and our insurance company refused to cover it even though it was the only source of nutrition my baby could safely consume.  But, Neocate changed our world.  Within a couple days, Everett was a new baby.  He became calm and smiley and content.  And he began to grow.  Despite this whirlwind journey with a happy ending, I still held on to the guilt.  When we moved to a new city and I met new mommy friends, I felt the intense need to defend myself by telling Everett’s story each time I shook up a bottle of formula for him.  “You see, I really wanted to breastfeed…” this story would begin.

And then this story would continue.  And sequels are rarely better than the original tale, so I suppose I should have known better.  When Everett was 16 months old, I got pregnant with our second little guy, Louie.  By this time, Ev had outgrown his milk allergy and was happily eating yogurt and cheese and even the occasional ice cream treat.  We were so relieved and I was ready to start the “Breast is Best” quest again with our second child.  The doctors said there was a chance that Louie could have the same allergy, but that it was only incrementally greater than the chances that any kid, so we were hopeful.  I stocked up on nursing bras with the special clips to make feeding as quick and seamless as a drive-thru order, purchased a breast pump to ensure I would not have supply issues, and dreamed of the day that I could simply snuggle my baby to my bosom and provide him with the natural goodness that only breastmilk can provide.

Louie arrived one week and one day before my due date… he had to outdo his brother my coming just before the 39 week mark.  He was a bit puny as well at 6 lbs, 8 oz, and 18 inches.  For the first two weeks, I felt like breastfeeding was going great.  What a relief!  He latched, he sucked, and he was making lots of wet diapers.  All good signs.  This was actually working!  I was overjoyed!

But then at his two week weight check, he wasn’t gaining fast enough.  We started with lots of pumping and bottle supplements of breastmilk, but ultimately we were opening the canisters of formula again.  Was it a latch issue, a supply issue, a lack of strength to suck issue?  Several visits to lactation consultants and pediatricians later, we still never knew for sure.  All we knew is that the perfectly perfect “Breast is best” plan was not working.  Again.

I should have been thankful that Louie was not having any milk allergy issues.  And truly I was, but this gratitude did not take away the resentment and disappointment that I felt.  Seriously, this is not going to work again?  I would see women breastfeeding everywhere.  Keep in mind, I’m a stay-at-home mom, so this sight is as common in my world as seeing trees in a forest.  And to capitalize on this hackneyed phrase, I just could not focus on the forest through the trees.  Couldn’t I just be happy to have a healthy growing boy that will ultimately grow into a healthy, playful toddler and then a healthy, strong man?  I have Everett as living proof that a formula-fed baby can still be absolute perfection.  But those damn trees just would not fade from my view.  I would feel intense jealousy as friends just popped their babies on their breasts and complained about their abundant supplies, overactive letdowns, engorged breasts, and Hoover babies with adorable fat rolls that demanded to suck every two hours.

At least Everett’s inability to nurse was clear-cut, but Louie’s issue was more difficult to diagnose, which motivated me to press on.  So I powered through what I would come to lovingly call our “breastling matches”.  Louis was a lightweight “breastler” and almost always reigned champion.  His various moves were quite impressive for such a little man: latch on, slip off, punch, scratch, kick, latch, delatch, screech, thrash, roll, yelp, latch, suck, suck, pop off, head butt, squeal.  These matches would last about twenty minutes and my sweet little Hulk Hogan would take in about one ounce of liquid gold as his prize.  One ounce.  I know this, because we had several sessions with lactation consultants who would weigh Louie before and after a feed.  Of course, each of these matches had to be followed by a bottle feed, which would consist of about half formula and half pumped breastmilk.  Obviously my milk supply was the victim of our struggles.

The lactation consultants would smile and tell me that all I had to do was pump at least 8 times a day for 20-30 minutes.  I’m an English teacher, but I can do that simple math: that’s almost 4 hours hooked up to a machine in a compromising position.  I just could not sustain that while trying to care for a newborn and wrangling an energetic toddler.  So I resigned to pumping as much as I felt I could handle, which ended up being about three times a day: first thing in the morning, mid-day during Everett’s nap, and in the evening.  Looking back, many of these pumping sessions were near comical pep rallies for our breastling matches.  I would often be hooked up to the pump while standing up and doing frantic bicep lifts with Louie in the carseat.  This was not to lose postpartum weight mind you, it was the only way I could keep my infant from hysterically wailing during the 20 minutes that I could not snuggle him.  Thank God for my hands-free bra.  (Although I am considering burning this piece of spandex when this wild ride finally ceases.)  These crazy pumping rituals coincided with Everett learning to talk, so some of his most commonly uttered phrases these days include, “Mama pump,” “Milky for Louie,” and “Turn it on.”  He is obsessed with turning the dial on the machine and hooking the tubes in to the sockets.  My little engineer. I am hoping that he is not cementing this quality time we spend as his earliest memories…that could necessitate therapy when he’s a teenager.

Luckily I have a close friend and neighbor who had a baby girl just weeks before I gave birth to Louie.  She too struggled with breastfeeding, so we were able to offer each other support and laughter throughout the process.  When discussing our upcoming hot dates with the breast pump each evening, we would often break into 1990s splendor through song: “Pump up the jam! Pump it up!”  If you lived through this decade, you will appreciate this allusion brought to you by the legendary group Technotronic.  Singing that refrain while commiserating via text message is often the only thing that would get me through the thrice-daily grind.

And here we are at the end of the summer already.  Louie is four and half months old and I have officially given up the breastling matches.  Just so that I could be sure I tried absolutely everything, we had both his tongue frenulum and upper labial frenulum clipped by an ENT doctor who suspected that these tongue and lip ties could be impacting his latch.  Unfortunately, our nursing relationship actually got worse while his mouth healed and never rebounded.  I am, however, still pumping.  Sometimes only twice a day and my supply is steadily tanking, but I’m eking out as much as I can to nourish his little growing body.  I feel like Louie’s bottles are little soy latte smoothies with a breastmilk boost.  It’s the Immunity Boost, the Perfect Nutrition Boost, and I set my goals for sustaining this dance one month at a time.  I’ve made it to 4 months; the next goal is 5 with the ultimate achievement of reaching six months, since I know my supply will not hold up for an entire year.     I still feel angry, disappointed, and as ridiculous as it is, a little bit of shame that I struck out at the breast once again.  I still feel the need to explain why I bottle feed and make sure people know that I really wanted to nurse my children.  I feel like I got punched in the stomach when I see “friends'” Facebook links to articles about the benefits of breastfeeding.  And I still cringe each time my eyes glance at the ingredients list on the Similac canister.  Why is corn syrup solids the first ingredient in all baby formula?  Gross.  I just don’t get it.

And maybe it’s a little foolish for me to be stressing so much over something that, in reality, is quite trivial.  I have two beautiful, healthy boys that are mostly formula fed.  And as my husband reminds me daily, they will still go to college despite their breastmilk deficiency.  It is this self-imposed guilt and grief that is the tragic flaw in my epic.  It is my need to defend my honor as a devoted, lactating mother that makes my quest a bit quixotic and absurd.  Rationally, I know I have tried my hardest and the choices I have made are the ones that are best for my children, my family, and my own well-being.  But emotionally, I long to experience “real breastfeeding,” the act of my body nourishing my son’s in this physical, literal way.  It will be another layer of grieving when I finally pack up the pump, but for now my hubris demands that I continue to provide my little one with a mere few ounces of “superfood” each day.  I tell my story, not to solicit sympathy and not even to defend myself when I imagine that the other mom behind me in Target in glaring at the super-sized containers of formula in my cart.  I tell my story simply to chronicle one of the many complexities of growing and cultivating little human beings. My epic may be a little over-dramatic and my breast puns a bit tacky, but there is truly no other saga that I want to be writing.

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